Arizonans Split on Domestic Partner Benefits

PHOENIX, Ariz. –  Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano’s proposal to offer domestic partner benefits to state employees drew letters of support and criticism from thousands of Arizona residents before the Jan. 2 deadline for public response.

The president of the University of Arizona joined hundreds of Arizonans petitioning state law makers to offer domestic partner benefits to workers on the state pay roll, who include faculty and staff at public universities.

In a letter to the state Department of Administration, UA President Robert Shelton said that offering health and other benefits to domestic partners of university employees would help U of A attract and keep “top faculty and staff” from seeking employment at competing universities that offer the benefits.
Shelton was joined by Tucson City Councilman Steve Leal who called the current lack of coverage unfair to unmarried, gay and transgender state employees. Wayne Ecton, a Scottsdale council member also urged the state to extend the benefits. In November, his city joined Phoenix, Tempe and Pima County in offering the benefits to public employees. However, the Scottsdale City Council stopped short of extending the measure to private businesses.

The Center for Arizona Policy, a non-profit group that lobbies for “traditional families and traditional moral values” has led the opposition to the governor’s proposal. The group filed comments with the governor’s office saying that the proposal, if enacted, would erode the Legislature’s role in deciding matters of public policy. The group also argues that extending domestic partner benefits to state employees would strain the state’s budget and undermine the state’s pro-marriage legislation.

Ecton, however, said that based on the number of city workers in Phoenix and Scottsdale who have applied for domestic partner benefits only 1.2 percent (fewer than 1,000 of nearly 65,000 state employees) would apply for the benefits.

Napolitano’s proposal would set certain limits on whom employees can name as a domestic partner. The couple will need to have lived together for at least a year and file a statement saying they intend to live together for at least the coming year. They will also need to show evidence of shared financial obligations, such as a joint checking account.

The state has not yet set a date for a public hearing on the governor’s proposal. The policy is scheduled, however, to go into effect by Oct. 1.

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